4 ways to conquer binge eating

Many people struggle with this and it ruins the best of intentions to lose weight or even just maintain your weight. You could be going along happily in your life and then boom, it hits. You know, that hard to ignore urge to binge until you’ve overdone it that ultimately ends in regret, guilt, and food restriction and/or self punishment. What if you could stop yourself before it even happens? It’s possible.

But first, let’s define what a binge truly is. Technically it’s when you are eating something that elicits the feeling of loss of control until you’ve eaten more than is a desired reasonable amount. The quantity and food varies from person to person. Person A could define a personal binge as eating 3 doughnuts while person B could define their personal binge as not until they’ve consumed the whole dozen of doughnuts. Person A could define a personal binge as consuming two servings of potato chips while person B could define their binge as eating the entire family size bag. Make sense? We all have different thresholds in this. No judgement for any quantity, it’s more about when you feel like you’ve lost your sense of self control that leads to feelings of guilt and self punishment. That’s no good for anyone.

So let’s talk about some ways to combat it:

  1. Know your triggers. Understand what sets you off in the first place and then avoid it or prepare for it when necessary. Does going to a party trigger you to binge on the chip bowl? Plan ahead of time and know that you simply can’t hang out around the food table. Does having a giant tub of ice cream in your freezer trigger you to indulge in the entire thing as soon as you’re home alone? Don’t buy it! Does having an argument with your spouse trigger you to run to the pantry and dive into the chocolate chip cookies? Put a post-it note on your pantry door that reminds you to stop and take a few deep breathes before you’re so quick to start eating when food is not what you really need at that moment.
    • Understand this, every habit we have is part of a chain that has multiple links. Each link is attached to the next that produces a result. The key is for you to break the link that results in a binge. It only takes one alteration, like a post-it note, to put a kink in that chain and direct you to a different activity.
  2. Exercise regularly. When we exercise on a regular basis, it keeps a steady stream of endorphins going in our system and helps keep our mood stabilized. It also helps us sleep better and thus, make better decisions throughout the day. Ever been sleep deprived for a few days? Remember how emotional and irrational you were? This is a high risk time for binging. In general, those who exercise just feel better about their health and body and have an easier time maintaining their weight overall.
  3. Start the day with a healthy breakfast. If you are going to skip any meal of the day, don’t let it be this one! Really work hard to eat within 2 hours of waking up and strive for 25-30 grams of protein at that meal. This helps stabilize blood sugars, control hunger later in the day, and thus keeps your mood more even making it less likely for a binge later on. Also, usually when we start our day off healthy, we are more likely to keep it going than when we started our day off not so great (say, with a sugary, high calorie breakfast).
  4. Avoid going more than 3-5 hours without eating. This one just makes sense. If you let yourself get too hungry and the setting is right, a binge is inevitable. Plan for high protein snacks such as cheese sticks, yogurt, deli meat, nuts or high fiber foods such as fresh fruits and veggies to fill in the gaps when meals are spread far apart. Find some other options here.

Lastly, this will be a work in progress for you if you have struggled with binge eating for a long time. The tips I’ve given you will help the person who struggles with occasional episodes of binge eating that they relate to either unhealthy emotions or certain situations that act as triggers for them. I am not referring to someone who has a recognized binge eating disorder which is characterized by behaviors far beyond what is described in this blog post. If you find yourself preplanning binge episodes, eating large quantities of food (in the multiple thousand calorie range) in very short periods of time, purposely eating alone out of embarrassment over the quantity of food eaten, and feelings of “zoning out” and even forgetting what food was consumed during these episodes, you may have an eating disorder and I encourage you to seek professional help from a licensed counselor.

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

9 foods we feel guilty about loving

I thought it might be fun to highlight some foods that you may not be eating in an attempt to stay healthy or may be eating laced with guilt. And put a positive spin on them. I know I have gone through periods of my life where I’ve avoided just about all of these foods because at one time they were deemed “bad for you” and then later as “health foods.” I think it comes down to knowing that if it’s a whole food – as in something you can visualize growing in nature or at least close to it, it’s probably okay, at least in small amounts. Remember there is never going to be a cookie or a pizza tree. But you are always going to see the potato roots and the cows out grazing.

  1. Sugar: earlier this year, I hosted a 30 day “no sugar” challenge and the results were fantastic. Because truly, sugar can be addicting and I’m convinced the only way one can overcome that is through a period of elimination. However, if you are attempting to cut the bitter in your coffee, a packet of sugar is only going to add 15 calories. So don’t sweat it. If it’s someone’s birthday and you want to help them celebrate with a slice of cake, go ahead. If you love an occasional soda with your slice of pizza (they go great together), then have one. The research is strong that consuming drinks and foods made with artificial sweeteners do not help with weight loss.
  2. Whole Milk: for the longest time, fat free or low fat was where it was at. Until recently. In past posts, I’ve discussed how full fat dairy products are linked to decreased risk of diabetes and at best, not linked to increased heart disease risk. Certainly, it is well known milk is an excellent source of calcium and vitamin D, important for bone health.
  3. Bacon: if chosen wisely, bacon can be more than a hunk of fat. It can actually be a tasty source of protein. The natural, uncured, nitrite/nitrate free, center cuts will be higher in protein, less saturated fat and without the unnecessary additives that may be linked to increased cancer risk.
  4. Salt: if you have been diagnosed with heart or kidney disease, then you may have been told to reduce or avoid salt. Have you ever wondered why? It comes down to fluid retention – eat salty foods, get thirsty, drink more water. This isn’t good for someone who is collecting fluid around their heart or lungs or for someone who’s kidneys aren’t filtering the fluids out of their body correctly. For the rest of us, we probably aren’t that salt sensitive and can handle it. For table salt, I recommend pink himalayan salt for the added minerals. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying to go out and eat all the salty processed snacks you can find – they still aren’t considered health foods and contain a ton of additives and preservatives without the nutritional benefits you get from whole foods. But for those of us with normal functioning organs, we can probably handle it for the most part.
  5. Bread: it really depends on the how and why. Are you eating a sandwich? And what is on the sandwich? Usually in this manner, the bread is in two controlled slices and serving a purpose. Unfortunately though, the favorite way to eat bread is in the form of an endless loaf or basket of rolls and tub of butter. It’s really all in context.
  6. Potatoes: no, I’m not talking about sweet potatoes. I’m talking about the good ole white potatoes we all love to demonize. Sure, if you are eating chips or french fries, go ahead and continue to hate them. But what about a baked potato? They are actually rich in folate, niacin, potassium, and and phosphorous. Much of the time, we are eating processed cereals fortified with these minerals, but potatoes are natural sources, which means our bodies can absorb them better. Try a loaded baked potato and salad for lunch or dinner – add plain greek yogurt in place of sour cream for extra protein. And eat the skin for extra insoluble fiber.
  7. Pasta: okay, it’s hard to make this a health food, but hear me out. The problem is when we pile a giant heap of pasta on a plate with an ooey gooey cream sauce and a side of buttery garlic bread. Instead think of what is called the “plate method.” This means, you are filling your plate up with about 25-30% pasta, 50% non starchy vegetables, and 25-30% meat. This could be sectioned out or mixed together in a  pasta dish. Point is, your pasta dish has more vegetables than pasta and the side is a salad not a few slices of garlic bread. Make sense?
  8. Red meat: while I don’t necessarily recommend eating red meat every day, this is a good source of iron and B vitamins if consumed once a week. Remember that cuts like sirloin, round, and flank are considered lean. If choosing a higher fat option, just be sure to cut the visible fat off before consuming. Our bodies are able to absorb minerals easier from meat than plants or fortified sources so if you do eat meat and have trouble with iron, this is a better option. For those of you that are anemic and struggle with iron, you know that taking supplements is no pleasant task because of the side effects. Last week, I talked about choosing grass fed meat, which incidentally tends to be your leanest choice.
  9. Eggs: once thought to be a cause of heart disease, that is no longer true. Eggs are an excellent source of choline, which is important for supporting healthy brain function and liver function. Also an easy, cheap source of protein for not only breakfast, but snack time and lunch or dinner.

Did I give you permission to start eating any of these foods more often? Let me know in the comments.

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Is grass fed healthier?

Do you consume grass fed beef, dairy, or butter?  I gotta admit, when I started digging into the research, I wanted to throw in the towel quickly because this is one of those topics that can be debated pretty heavily and the research is not conclusive either. But is it ever in the area of nutrition?

A little back ground for you. Most of the beef you purchase in the store is going to be grain fed. And the dairy you buy will come from cow’s who have consumed grain feed made from soy and corn. Why? Because cows fed grain grow faster and frankly, grain is kinda like cake and ice cream to them. They love it and it’s cheaper. Win-win, right? I can see this – I have a pet rabbit and while she is supposed to eat mostly hay, she very well prefers her little rabbit food pebbles over the hay hanging in her cage that is much healthier for her digestive system. I’ve read the grain feed isn’t good for her if she eats too much and in fact, I’m pretty sure she’s addicted to the stuff. She’s kinda fat actually.

Back to the cows though. Why should we care what they eat? More importantly, does it really matter? I mean, I’m a dietitian and even I wonder this because I have better things to do than worry about what the cows ate before their milk was turned into butter and melted on my morning bagel….like my obese pet rabbit, my child’s missing homework (again), and the fact that I haven’t made time to get my oil changed in six months (true story.)

Well one reason I believe it’s getting attention is because the standard American diet (aka SAD) is so low in healthy omega 3s fats (the kind that helps lower inflammation in the body and protect against heart disease). It is a proven fact that grass fed beef products are higher in omega 3 fats than grain fed. However, that does not mean eating a grass fed hamburger is a high source of omega 3 fats. In fact, in a four ounce hamburger patty, you will only get 80 milligrams of omega 3 fats. I’m not impressed. The best sources remain fatty fish like salmon (~1700 milligrams in three ounces), walnuts (~2600 milligrams in 1/4 cup), and flax seed (~1600 milligrams in 1 tablespoon.) Problem is, when is the last time you ate any of those items? And do you eat them daily? I don’t.

Let’s break it down though. Because it goes deeper, much deeper. There are different types of omega 3 fatty acids, and this is where I was tempted to throw in the towel. But I pressed on.

  1. Eicosapentaenoic Acid and Docosahexaenoic Acid (EPA and DHA): these are the two heavy hitter omega 3 fatty acids that our body can use directly. They are well known for fighting inflammation, and reducing heart disease. This is the kind found in fish. This is what you want.
  2. Conjugated linoleic acid (CLA): Grass-fed butter contains five times more CLA than butter from grain-fed cows. Why is that a big deal? CLA converts inside your body to DHA and EPA.
  3. Butyric acid: beneficial in aiding digestion and anti-inflammatory properties. It is a short chain fatty acid found highest in amounts in high quality butter, ghee, and raw milk among other types of foods. Fun fact: it is responsible for the smell of vomit. Doesnt that make you want to run out and buy some butter now?
  4. Alpha linolenic acid (ALA): small amounts are converted to EPA and DHA. This is the kind primarily found in grass fed beef. Much larger amounts are found in walnuts and flaxseeds, as stated above. But evidence shows you really need the EPA and DHA to be used by the body.

What’s the bottom line here though? From my research, there isn’t any hard evidence that grass fed butter or dairy will improve one’s heart disease risk when substituted for the grain fed versions. I’ve written extensively on the topic of dairy in the past, check it out here. What there is evidence for, is that those in countries that are provided mostly grass fed beef and dairy are less likely to die from cardiovascular disease if they are among those who consume the highest amount of full fat dairy products. Keep in mind, these studies I linked are just observations, so they don’t necessarily prove that eating high amounts of dairy and/or beef cause a lower risk of heart attack. But they still show something.

Okay, but what else? This is where I think it really counts. So pay attention if you’ve been half reading so far. After asking around and digging more, I found that the real concern is the genetically modified organisms, aka GMOs. Recall cattle feed is made mostly from ground up corn and soy, which tastes super yummy to them. Currently, 89% of corn and 94% of soy is grown with genetically modified seeds (check it out.)

Why? So that they are resistant to the herbicide, glyphosate, aka Roundup. Well, the cows are eating it not us, so why should we care? According to this study, this widely used herbicide accumulates in the animal tissue and urine. This means it remains in the hamburgers we eat and milk we drink. That study also found that it accumulates in human tissue, by the way. This is a highly controversial topic. But there are studies suggesting glycphosate is linked to a host of health issues we are experiencing in the world today to include cancer, including non-hodgkin’s lymphoma, parkinson’s disease, birth defects, hormonal disruptions, kidney disease, and a host of other health issues. Unfortunately, the issue of GMO avoidance goes far beyond choosing grass fed beef and dairy products. But that’s for another blog post.

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Is juicing really healthy?

I’ve been asked this question quite a few times, but admittedly I haven’t had much of an opinion or any thoughts because to me, there’s no harm in juicing your fruits and vegetables, especially if you don’t like them and this will help you consume more. But is it healthier? Or does it remove nutrients that would come best from eating the whole piece of produce? I looked into it because I don’t personally “juice.”

Here’s what I found:

  1. If you aren’t exactly sure what “juicing” refers to, simply put, it just means you are squeezing the juice from fresh fruits or vegetables by using a high powered machine or your hands. The leftover liquid contains most of the vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients (a.k.a. healthy stuff only found in plants.) Some people opt for juicing because they believe your body can absorb the nutrients better and it gives your digestive system a rest from working on fiber.
  2. There is an alternative form, referred to as “blending.” This will retain more of the antioxidants/phytochemicals (aka nutrition) because it preserves the whole fruit, including the peel, as demonstrated in this study when comparing juicing flesh only versus blending the entire edible portions of pears, apples, persimmons, and mandarin oranges. Same here for blending grapefruit versus juicing. I’m not surprised by that, but nonetheless there were still nutrients when these fruits were “juiced” without the fiber portions.
  3. Just my professional opinion, if for some reason you have problems digesting fiber (irritable bowel syndrome flare ups, bouts of diverticulitis, gastroparesis, etc), juicing fresh fruits and vegetables can be a great way to get in vital nutrients without the fiber. As far as those of us with healthy, normal digestive systems, I do not believe we need a “rest” from fiber. Quite opposite actually. The average American consumes about 10 grams of fiber daily when the daily recommended intake is 25-30 grams per day. We need it for lots of health reasons, particularly in our digestive tract. I’m not gong to be the one to give you a reason to eat LESS fiber. K?
  4. If blending or juicing, I actually do think it can be an excellent option for most of us who don’t eat very many fruits and vegetables and likely wouldn’t eat vegetables like kale, spinach, carrots, beet greens, pineapple, apples, citrus, pears, berries etc on a  regular basis. There are lots and lots of options and combinations to make interesting smoothie recipes and it really can be a fantastic addition to a healthy diet.

If you plan to incorporate this into your diet, I recommend replacing one meal and adding a couple of eggs or a yogurt on the side with it because a smoothie made for these purposes does not have any protein in it. If you have followed me for any length of time, you know how important it is to include protein at your meals. As much as I love the healthy goodness of fruits and veggies, you will be STARVING an hour or two later on a carb-filled smoothie like this. As an alternative, it can be perfectly acceptable to have as a mid-morning snack instead. Lastly, some of you who are considering intermittent fasting, may opt to incorporate something like this into your routine. Enjoy the recipes I’ve provided for you if you’d like to it out. Just click the picture thumbnail below to view them.

 

P.S. Last week, we started our “Fall Back into Healthy Habits” journey. It’s not too late too  join in. Just head over here for the details and how to join my support group where we will be having weekly live chats and goal setting sessions.Follow me for daily livestreams on Facebook

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Does your stomach really shrink when you eat less?

As a specialist in weight loss, I hear this phrase a lot, “I just need to shrink my stomach so I can get used to eating less.”

In reality, throughout life, the adult stomach stays about the same, which is the size of a football. However, the stomach is a muscle that can be stretched temporarily to fit more in should the occasion occur. How much we eat tends to be more dictated by habit and hormones rather than size, however.

A little anatomy for you. (I promise, just a little.) There are three very basic parts of the stomach: the top (the fundus), the middle (the body), and the bottom (the pylorus), which is where food empties out into your intestines. The the fundus, is the stretchy part that can expand a bit to allow more food to fit if necessary. It is not likely that the entire body of the stomach is going to expand to allow more food. Back to the football, if you can visualize how much chewed up food that would really mean, it’s quite a lot. However, our body regulates our appetite with hormones that send signals to our brain to tell us whether we’ve eaten enough or not – this is independent of how full the stomach is. Those hormones play a very big role in weight regulation and can be easily over-ridden by outside cues (i.e. the food tastes really good, it’s Thanksgiving, etc.)

Now back to the fundus. This upper muscle is why there’s always room for dessert, but maybe not another immediate meal. It takes about two full hours for the meal to completely empty down to the lower  stomach, out and travel into the small intestine. If you overdo it by eating too much too fast or adding some dessert at the end, that fundus is going to allow for some extra room. For those that habitually overdo it, the tolerance is going to grow over time for allowance. For those that don’t, it’s gonna be more uncomfortable and you’ll be less likely to keep doing it. When you go on a diet and purposely under eat for a couple of weeks, that fundus will become less stretchy and you’ll feel like your stomach has “shrunk.” But it really hasn’t. Weird, huh?

Competitive eaters use this to their advantage and train that muscle over time to allow them to eat a lot in one sitting without puking. I’m not suggesting you do that since I’m assuming you read my blog for help with weight loss, not competitive eating.

In someone who has had weight loss surgery, the body and possibly the pylorus of the stomach has been removed or bypassed, leaving about the size of an egg left. That’s not a lot and it creates some massive restriction. Because this part of the stomach is a muscle and can still stretch, it doesn’t stay that restricted for good. However, the tolerance for over-eating is much less, so the individual usually never gets back to having a football size stomach and still experiences permanent food restriction. If you know someone who had weight loss surgery and regained all or some of their weight because they “stretched their stomach back out,” this may be what’s going on. That’s for another blog post, though.

Hope you found this helpful and enjoyed a little weird science today!

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded women striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free online support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Take probiotics to stop sneezing and fidgeting?

Gut health seems to be getting the spotlight in the past several years. People are more concerned than ever about what’s going on in their insides. And this has made probiotics of particular interest. But why? In my early career days, the only people we would recommend probiotics to were those with intestinal infections and those on heavy doses of antibiotics.

Today, it’s as common to take probiotics as it is to take a multivitamin. Why? Let’s first review what exactly a probiotic is before we begin to understand some of the reasons why people would want to consider taking them as a daily supplement. Probiotics contain microorganisms, most of which are bacteria similar to the beneficial bacteria that occur naturally in the human gut. In other words, beneficial = does good things. Sounds really scientific, huh? The most-studied species include Lactobacillus, Bifidobacterium, and Saccharomyces. (yeah, I know those do sound really scientific.)

To keep this post reasonably short, I’m going to go over the top four reasons my readers said they take probiotics and discuss them here.

  • They improve digestive regularity. You’ve probably heard this one. Makes sense, right? If the natural and beneficial bacteria that are similar to probiotics are found in the gut, they should benefit our bowel habits. Don’t ya think? What does the research say, though? “There is high-quality evidence that probiotics are effective for acute infectious diarrhea, antibiotic-associated diarrhea, clostridium difficile–associated diarrhea, hepatic encephalopathy, ulcerative colitis, irritable bowel syndrome, functional gastrointestinal disorders, and necrotizing enterocolitis. Conversely, there is evidence that probiotics are not effective for acute pancreatitis and crohn’s disease.” C. diff is bad news and highly contagious diarrhea. It can be big problem in hospitals and can really keep someone there for a while with pretty severe dehydration if not handled correctly. It will put you out for quite some time if you are unfortunate enough to get it. Good news is, probiotics are safe for infants, children, adults, and older patients. I’m going to add here, that probiotics do not survive in an acidic and hostile stomach environment. We don’t necessarily need the billion gazillion cells that most available brands pride themselves on. Problem is, the majority of the them don’t survive the stomach acid long enough to reach the small intestine where they are needed. The billions of live cells are present in these brands in hopes that some will make it to the end. We don’t actually know how many that is. Perhaps that’s why some people experience benefits and others do not.
  • They support our immune health.  Our digestive system is not only responsible for the digestion and absorption of food nutrients, but it provides protection against potentially harmful antigens (such as toxins, bacteria, virus, foreign blood cells.) Several available research data points to the conclusion that probiotics can be used as innovative tools for treating dysfunctions of the gut mucosal barrier, including acute gastroenteritis (i.e. food poising or a “stomach bug”), food allergies, and inflammatory bowel disease (i.e. diverticulosis). You’ve probably been told at some point in your life to take probiotics during or after a course of antibiotics to restore the healthy bacteria that was killed off. We need them.
  • May help alleviate allergy symptoms. Infants are more susceptible to allergic responses because their immune systems and digestive symptoms are still developing. The types of bacteria and amounts present depend on several different factors including whether the child was born by cesarean or vaginally, breastfed or formula fed, age they were introduced to table food and types of food, antibiotic exposure, and of course genetics. This review examined the available research and found that indeed probiotics did improve their allergic responses and reduced symptoms of common ailments like eczema, allergic rhinitis, and allergic dermatitis. When infants were given Lctbs rhamnosus for the first 2 years of life they had a significant reduction by approximately half in the prevalence of eczema. And this study showed that when adults and children suffering from allergic rhinitis took therapeutic doses of Lactobacillus paracasei, they experienced significant improvements also.

In another study , they gave children at a daycare fermented milk containing lactobacillus casei (think kefir) and saw marked improvements as well, but not in those children with asthma. Pretty cool, huh? More research still needs to be done in spite of these exciting results since not all come to the same conclusion and they weren’t done on large scales. It doesn’t hurt to go ahead and take them though.

  • Reduce Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) symptoms. Say what?! It’s true. Recent experimental evidence suggests that gut microbiota may alter function within the nervous system. This particular study published in 2015 followed 75 children from pre-birth to age thirteen and supplemented the experimental group from four weeks before birth (the mom) to six months of age with Lactobacillus rhamnosus and the control group with placebo. They initially examined the differences in gut microbiota in the children at birth and later found a correlation to those who were later diagnosed with either ADHD or Asperger’s Syndrome. Turns out, those affected had a significantly lower amount of Bifidobacterium longum at the age of three months than the children that did not receive a diagnosis. At the end of the thirteen years, six out of thirty five children in the placebo group were diagnosed with ADHD or AS while NONE of the children in the probiotic group were. 

That’s pretty compelling, but what I found the most profound of all was this gem of a study right here, published in 2003. It was only performed on twenty children age 7-12, but I don’t care. What they found was amazing. Supplementing these kids for just four weeks with a mix of B vitamins, Vitamin C, minerals (iron, copper), phytonutrients, amino acids, essential fatty acids, phospholipids, and probiotics specifically chosen to address the ADHD biochemical risk factors was found to be just as affective as ritalin treatment. We’re talking behaviors like focus, consistency, fidgeting, impulsiveness, stamina, vigilance, and speed. I’m impressed. You may see a future blog post on this topic soon.

What to do with all of this information? For some immunocompromised individuals (those on chemotherapy, HIV patients, or those receiving organ transplants) you may want to ask you doctor before you start any new supplements. Otherwise, I’ve given you lots of good reasons to add probiotics into your daily regimen. If you choose a supplement, be sure to read the label and follow the directions. If you prefer to start with adding some food sources, here are some good options:

Kefir: fermented milk

Yogurt: you know what this is, but I recommend greek because of its high protein content

Kombucha: fermented black tea

Sauerkraut: fermented cabbage

Apple cider vinegar: the kind with floaty things on the bottom, not the cheap stuff, use as a salad dressing

Tempeh: a fermented soybean product, thicker and firmer than tofu

Miso: a traditional Japanese paste-like spice made from soybeans and barely with koji (fungus…yum)

Fermented pickles: these won’t be shelf stable, those are pasteurized and do not contain live cultures (so think gherkins, not the ones pickled in vinegar but rather salt and water)

Sourdough bread: did I just give you a reason to eat bread?? Sort of. The yeast is fermented, creating the “sour” taste and making it easier to digest than other breads

Aged, soft cheese: such as cheddar, gouda, parmesan, and swiss (note, most others will not contain live, active cultures)

Kimchi: a spicy, korean dish made up of mostly cabbage and other fermented vegetables

Have fun trying some of these new foods if you are interested in expanding into some of the ethnic or vegetarian options. If you are interested in what brand of probiotic supplement I use and recommend, feel free to reach out to me via the links below.

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free online support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Drink coffee and eat cheese to lower your diabetes risk?

It’s no secret that obesity is an epidemic in the United States and many other developed countries. Because of that, comorbid conditions that are related to extra weight are on the rise. Of particular interest is Type 2 Diabetes, a condition where your body cannot use insulin properly to regulate your blood sugar levels, causing hyperglycemia (aka high blood sugar.)

A quick science lesson to understand what’s going on in someone who has diabetes: insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that is necessary to move glucose (sugar) molecules into our body’s cells for energy. Every cell in the body requires glucose to function. If those glucose molecules are hanging out in the blood stream, they aren’t doing their job and instead, are creating problems like blurred vision, excessive hunger/thirst and fatigue because the body is essentially acting like you haven’t eaten. Chronically high blood sugars lead to heart disease, kidney failure, and permanent nerve damage. No organ can function correctly in a thick, syrupy-like bloodstream.

This is why prevention and management of diabetes is so important. It can absolutely be diet controlled and I’ve witnessed many individuals be able to get off of their diabetes meds with enough weight loss and diet modifications. It’s possible. But always better to not have it to begin with since diabetes is not curable. Note, I’m only referring to Type 2 diabetes here. Type 1 is genetic, usually diagnosed in childhood, and happens when the pancreas produces no insulin at all. It is unrelated to lifestyle factors. 

So what foods increase your risk? Let’s start there since more than 29 million Americans are living with diabetes, and 86 million are living with pre-diabetes. Many of those unaware. Some risk factors like age, genetics, race, and family history are out of our control. However, one thing we can do is choose what we put on our plates. Emerging research has some interesting results on just exactly what to choose and what to ditch.

Foods that increase risk:

  • refined/processed carbohydrates such as crackers, cereal, white bread, cookies, snack cakes, chips, pastries, etc. Interestingly, those marketed as “low-fat, fat-free, and low carb” are also linked to an increased diabetes risk. Why? Because they are still processed!
  • red meat (according to this study “red meat” included beef, pork, and lamb)
  • processed red meat (think bacon, hot dogs, sausage, salami, bologna, etc)
  • sugary drinks like fruit juice with added sugars, soda, fruit punch, lemonade, sweet tea, etc

Foods that have a neutral effect (at least for now):

  • butter
  • poultry (according to the research, the evidence is not clear if it increases or decreases risk)
  • 100% fruit juice without added sugars
  • eggs (can we all just agree it’s okay to eat eggs already?)
  • fish (although may decrease risk in some Asian populations)

Foods that decrease risk:

  • green leafy, vegetables
  • nuts
  • whole grains (unrefined, with the bran still intact)
  • monounsaturated fats (such as avocados, nut butters, mixed nuts)
  • high-fat dairy products (cheese, cream, whole milk, kefir, yogurt) *you read that right, check it out here
  • coffee (add some cream! who else is getting excited? It’s true, really I’m not lying to justify my addiction.)
  • tea
  • alcohol (2 drink limit for men, 1-1.5 drink limit for women, but no need to start if you don’t) *you read that right, too

Much of the research cited is from food frequency questionnaires on large scale studies. As you may know from my previous posts, this method of data collection is not the most reliable, but it’s difficult to control human behavior, especially when it comes to diet over a long period of time. Either way, I think these lists of food gives us some valuable insight on what we can control in our own life.

Lastly, remember that your diabetes risk increases after the age of 45, exercising less than three times per week, being overweight, and having a family history of diabetes. 

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

The real reason to go vegan (hint: it’s not because meat causes cancer)

I want to start with a disclaimer, I don’t have Netflix. I know. But I rarely watch tv these days and when I do, it’s in the form of a Friday night animated movie with my kids. You’ll understand in a minute why this matters to the topic of vegan diets.

But first, let’s clarify what a vegan diet really is. It’s not the same thing as going vegetarian which is simply cutting out some or all animal products. Vegans are hard core. They don’t eat animal containing products of any kind including beef, poultry, seafood, dairy products, eggs, honey and any products containing such ingredients (i.e. whey, casein, lactose, egg white albumen, gelatin, cochineal or carmine, shellac, L-cysteine, animal-derived vitamin D3 and fish-derived omega-3 fatty acids.) Most vegans I have known rely on whole, plant based foods to compose their diets. The bulk of their diet comes from nuts, seeds, beans, fresh fruits and vegetables, rice, potatoes, and occasional dairy substitutes. They typically do not consume processed meat substitutes (that would be a flexitarian), processed junk food, added oils, and sugary drinks/sweets. These are health conscious people that often care about the environment too.

A certain movie on Netflix has been circulating recently about how healthy vegan diets are, suggesting if you follow them, you won’t get cancer, Type 2 diabetes, or heart disease. And highlights how unhealthy eating meat, poultry, processed meat, even fish, and all forms of dairy is. Cancer in a patty with melted diabetes on top, shall we?

As a reader of my stuff, you probably know by now, I have an opinion. But you should also know my opinions are based on quality evidence. I’ve read a thorough review of the movie but my post really isn’t to bash the movie. What I’d prefer to do is shed some light on the real reason you’d want to consider following a vegan diet instead of a bunch of bias and poorly backed reasons of why you shouldn’t eat meat. In the world of nutrition and scientific research, there are very little absolutes. When it comes down to it, nobody really has the answer. If they did, they would be extremely wealthy and these diseases that have become such epidemics would be eradicated by now. One little movie just doesn’t have the miracle answer. Sorry.

So let’s outline some great reasons why a vegan diet would be a great option, sprinkled with a few reasons why it might not be a fit for you:

  1. Vegan diets are nutritious: this really is a no brainer. They are naturally higher in fiber, folic acid, vitamins C and E, potassium, magnesium, and many phytochemical than the typical western diet (aka standard American diet aka SAD). The fat content is also more unsaturated since there is no allowance for the primary sources it comes from like butter, beef, processed goods and poultry skin. However, there are going to be a few nutrients that will present a challenge and concerted effort to obtain adequate amounts is required. Vitamin B-12 to start with because the best source in the SAD comes from eggs and animal products. There is a product that you may have never heard of unless you circulate in the vegan communities called nutritional yeast, which can be fortified with B-12 (think parmesan cheese). Most solid vegans I know take daily sublingual supplements or bi-weekly injections. Really no way of getting around that one, a B12 deficiency can lead to all kinds of issues including permanent neurological damage, so don’t mess with it. Next ones are vitamin D, calcium, and long-chain omega-3 fatty acids. These three power house nutrients typically come from canned seafood and dairy products, both off the vegan menu. If flax seed, flax seed oil, and walnuts are a regular part of the diet, omega 3 fatty acids should not be a problem. And there are always vegan omega 3 supplements. It should be noted that the vegan supplements are not as bioavailable as the fish supplements, however. Some green leafy vegetables will provide plenty of calcium if eaten regularly especially kale, broccoli, and watercress. Almonds are also a great source of calcium all things considered. Plant-based dairy alternatives can be a good option too if fortified with vitamin D, B12, and calcium. I talk more about them in this recent post.
  2. There is possibility that vegans are at lower risk of heart disease, certain types of cancer, and type 2 diabetes. The research isn’t clear, folks. The movie which shall remain anonymous, gave studies, which to the average person unfamiliar with how research works, might sound compelling, if not downright terrifying. But much of what they cited was based off of dietary recalls and food frequency questionnaires. I did some of my own digging, that’s what I found too here, here, and here. As a dietitian, I’ve completed both myself and obtained thousands of dietary recalls. Can you give me an account of everything you’ve eaten for the past seven days including snacks, drinks, and meals? How about a month? I can’t either. That’s what they are basing their research on and then saying the amount of meat these people ate is linked to their cause of cancer. You can’t buy that. I will note, if these people are professing to be vegans and in two of the studies I linked to, the subjects are seventh day adventists as well, I’m guessing the researchers are taking their word that they don’t smoke, drink alcohol, or consume animal products. So over the 6 and 8 year follow up period these two studies took place, these people never messed up. Not once. Not ever. I’ll let you decide how likely that is. And how truthful people are about that. Especially when it comes to their religion.
  3. You could be thinner. True. Could be. I’m a weight loss expert. I’ve been working with people on weight loss for over ten years. I’ve never been able to adequately help someone lose weight without reducing their carbohydrate intake and increasing their protein intake. Quite opposite of a vegan diet. But certainly, the carbohydrate choices I recommend are fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and beans/legumes. Really, I’m tired of of the 100-calorie snack packs and 1-point snack cakes filling up the grocery aisles advertised as weight loss foods. They aren’t. And they aren’t part of a vegan diet, that’s a win.

Obesity is the second leading cause of preventable death in the United States. Smoking is number one. My mission is to help you lose weight effectively and for good. I don’t buy for one second that eating a piece of bacon or any processed meat is like smoking five cigarettes. This study compared various types of cancer risks relative to habits like smoking history, processed meat, and red meat intake. However, they based their conclusions on food frequency questionnaires and did not take into account BMI or family history of cancer (although they gathered the information.) They did survey close to 500,000 individuals. So I will give it to them that they have numbers on their side. If you’ve ever talked to me about processed meat, you know I don’t like nitrites and nitrates because I do believe that there is strong evidence that they are linked to cancer and there are too many great nitrite-free options to risk it. But that doesn’t mean eliminate them altogether nor does that make a strong case to go vegan. In fact, this study found a reduction in all cause mortality when individuals replaced red meat with unprocessed white meat (chicken, fish, etc). But again, they obtained their evidence from questionnaires. So who really knows.

So far, maybe I haven’t given much compelling reason to go all out vegan. I’m really not anti-vegan at all. In fact, I’ve considered it myself but I live with two meat-lovers  and one-dairy lover so I prefer to keep the peace for now. At first glance, there is some compelling evidence that it’s the miracle diet we’ve been looking for. But then again, other diets are out there showing similar promises. Fact is, we don’t know enough about any of them and I’m not sure if we ever will. I don’t know anyone that has gained weight, could blame their cancer, heart disease, or diabetes on following a vegan diet. Quite opposite in all of the personal encounters I’ve experienced myself. If it’s something you are considering, have a plan, allow for a little flexibility, and incorporate supplements if necessary.

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Keto diet- is it everything and more?

Several weeks ago, I began a diet review series and I did a brief synopsis of the Keto Diet. I admit it wasn’t very thorough and because I keep seeing it pop up and another friend starting it, another friend losing weight with it, and another person swearing by it for their increased energy, I’m gonna do a more thorough review here. I especially see my friends in the holistic communities doing it- and it’s spreading faster than the Whole 30 diet once was.

Is this the newest fad that will be replaced by something better in a couple of years? Or is it here to stay and in several years we are going to see evidenced based research popping up at how it’s the best diet that we never knew existed and if we just figured out how healthy fat was for us earlier, maybe we wouldn’t be seeing the rise of heart disease, obesity, cancer, and other related diseases that we do today?

Well, let’s start with what it even is. Roughly 70-75% fats (you read right), 5-10% carbohydrate, and 20-25% protein. As you can see this is not your normal low carb diet that typically replaces the missing carbs with protein. It’s all about the fat. Why? Because the purpose of this diet is to put your body into ketosis, aka a fat burning machine. Just to give you a little science lesson here, our bodies preferred source of fuel is glucose (what carbs are converted to after we eat them). Now if you are eating a diet high in carbs, that is what you will burn first for energy. And everything requires energy in our bodies to function properly, including our brains. When the body runs out of glucose (will happen if you aren’t eating very many carbs), the liver is great at producing a back up, called ketones. Ketones come from broken down fat. Make sense?

So why do people do this? I dunno about you, but while a high fat diet sounds pretty fun to me, a diet made of mostly fat doesn’t. But there are lots of anecdotal reports of promising results when one follows this kind of diet. I’ll start with two that have evidenced-based research backing the claims up (because you know me, that’s what I’m about.)

Note: it was very difficult for me to find any studies published prior to 2017 (soooo….6 months ago) that called a ketogenic diet low carb high fat. Be aware of that because any other “ketogenic” diet before that in the research was defined as “low carb, high protein.” There is a huge difference and that’s not what we are talking about here. I worked with patients and personally participated in 2 published studies on very low calorie high protein, low carb diets for 7 years.

Weight loss: this article  published in 2013 reviewed 12 different studies and found in 1415 subjects, the average weight loss after 6 months on a high fat, low carb diet was 2 pounds vs. 1.6 pounds for those following a low fat diet. After a 6 month follow up it was difficult to assess because compliance was not so great and they consumed more carbs than allowed. Another study published in 2009 was done for a full year on 106 obese individuals and compared weight loss of those on a keto diet vs a low fat, high carb diet. They found that their average weight loss was the same between groups, both losing an average of 30 pounds. Pretty good, but neither diet was superior to the other. It just showed that following a reduced calorie diet yields weight loss.

I will add here that I’ve always said, I’ve failed at what I do if I helped you lose weight but you regained it all back. I don’t think we know enough about this diet for the purposes of weight loss to know if it’s not just another yo yo plan. Sorry.

Lipid levels: In the same 2013 review, they analyzed 1258 subjects and found their triglycerides decreased significantly, and their HDL levels increased significantly. Both good things. I like that and the amount of subjects is enough to say it’s valid.

Other indicators of Metabolic Syndrome: The 2013 review noted there was no significant difference between treatment groups in changes in systolic blood pressure (11 trials), fasting blood glucose (eight trials), insulin (six trials), HbA1c – average blood glucose over three months (four trials) and C-reactive protein (four trials).

Athletic performance: In this 2017 review, they concluded that long-term low carb, high fat diets appear to be safe and may even improve several metabolic risk factors for chronic diseases in the general population. They may even provide a promising way to help control body weight and fat mass while maintaining lean body mass in athletes who are participating in sports like tae kwan do, wrestling, lightweight rowing, cycling, and running. Additionally, there is some emerging evidence that a keto diet could improve the performance in ultra-endurance sports as well as those sports with repeated high intensity activities. If you aren’t an athlete, this could still be a good thing if you’re hitting up the gym and wanna try out that new cycling class.

Focus and Mood: this has been one result that many believers love the most. And why I believe they stick with it. Who wouldn’t when you feel great, you’re losing weight, and you’re better able to focus? Who doesn’t need that? Here’s what the available research says: in a 2009 study, they found that after 8 weeks, those following both low carb, high fat diet and a low fat diet had significant improvements in their mood and cognitive functions. However, after a year, the low carb, high fat diet returned to their baseline mood and cognitive functions while those on the low-fat diet continued with their marked improvements. You read that right. The low-fat diet group continued with the better mood, NOT the keto group. This study here in 1998 reported similar results on women eating a high carb diet. I’m just the messenger, don’t hate me! Now, I’m not recommending you go eat a bunch of carbs to feel better. Okay?

Here’s the thing, the concept of following a keto diet for weight loss is fairly new in the research world. So you’re not gonna find a whole lot out there to prove it does a whole lot for health yet. You will find a bunch out there to show the benefits of what it does for those with epilepsy unresponsive to medication. It works.

And don’t expect overnight results. It takes time for the body to adapt to ketogenesis. Some sources I’ve read say two weeks, others say up to a couple of months – assuming you don’t go off plan, not even once. So no cheat days allowed. This diet is for the type A strict meal planning types. Those who are willing to keep a food record and count their carbs, fats, and proteins will do best.

I’m a weight loss expert. And here’s what I know about long term, sustainable weight loss. It’s hard. Like, really hard. If you’re looking for a study that proves ANY diet to work and be the ending answer to our obesity epidemic, well good luck. You will surely find that one person who followed a high carb diet and lost 167 pounds and now has kept it off for 13 years. There’s gonna be that person following the Atkins diet since it’s introduction to the dieting world and it’s changed their life forever. And then there’s the rest of the dieting world still looking for what works for them. I did not find anything that said following the ketogenic diet was harmful, not even long term. In fact, quite opposite. So if you wanna try it because you know someone or more than a few someones who are following it and now they look and feel great and you think it’s something that could help you, well let me know! I’m always looking to be inspired by someone’s dieting success story.

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN

Do you know what high fructose corn syrup really is?

Believe it or not, there is a large degree of controversy in the health community as to whether or not high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) any different than consuming sugar, honey, or any of the other sweeteners humans have consumed for decades prior to the 1970s when it was first introduced on the market.

Let’s start off with defining what this evil thing is, HFCS, anyway. I’m sure you’ve heard of it, probably all bad things. But do you know what it really is (besides an evil liquid sweet substance that makes you fat especially your liver, inflames everything in your body, and will likely give you a heart attack in the next 5 years)? Defined, it is derived from corn starch which has been broken down into corn syrup to which enzymes have been added to change some of the glucose to fructose, making the product

sweeter than regular corn syrup. Regular corn syrup is 100% glucose whereas HFCS now has a large portion or fructose. According to the FDA, HFCS 42 (as in 42% fructose) is mainly used in processed foods, cereals, baked goods, and some beverages. HFCS 55 (as in 55% fructose) is used primarily in soft drinks. Make sense?

Why is it used? Because it’s cheap. It comes from an abundance and renewable source in the agricultural industry – corn. It’s also stable in acidic environments and beverages, making it very easy to use in products. Being that it’s liquid, it’s also easy to pump from delivery vehicles to mixing and storage tanks.

So why the controversy? It’s cheap, it’s easy, seems to be near identical to table sugar, which is 50% glucose and 50% fructose – the substance all other sweeteners are compared to. So why all the media hype? One of the biggest spotlights it has been deemed a demon for is the obesity epidemic. I’ve done as thorough research review and as Harry Truman said, “If you can’t convince them, conf

use them.”And that’s largely where I’m at -sort of.

Here’s why. The vast majority of the studies I read concluded that HFCS is no more to harmful to our health than consuming regular table sugar is. That doesn’t mean it’s good for you, it just means it’s not worse for you than eating added sugars in general. That makes a lot of sense to me because I already know that eating added sugar does more harm that good. What didn’t make sense to me was that some of these articles, like this one from the NIH, while compelling, were funded by Pepsi Co International, Coca Cola, ConAgra Foods, Kraft Foods, Corn Refiners Association, and Weight Watchers. The conclusion was “based on high quality evidence from randomized controlled tria

ls (RCT), systematic reviews and meta-analyses of cohort studies that singling out added sugars as unique culprits for metabolically based diseases such as obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease appears inconsistent with modern, high quality evidence and is very unlikely to yield health benefits.” In case you forgot, Weight Watchers has a large product line if one and two point cakes, muffins, and other yummy sweet treats to keep you on track with your point count.

And this review, who’s final statement was “it does not appear to be practical to base dietary guidance on selecting or avoiding these specific types of sweeteners,” was funded by the United States Department of Agriculture. It’s just hard for me to see beyond the possibility of hidden agendas w

hen companies who have a lot to lose are dumping their money into statements telling the public th

at what they are doing is perfectly safe.

I did find some unbiased research out there though. As of 2004, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reported that there indeed is evidence that it may have a special connection to the rising obesity rates, particularly because of the overconsumption of sweetened sodas. The conclusion that started this whole controversy was that “the risk of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, and gout is also increased with the consumption of sugar-sweetened soft drinks.”

But why would this be? For starters, with the cheap source of sweeteners, the average soda size grew from sixteen ounce bottles to twenty. Even more so, this sugary substance is addicting. W

hen we get a taste of it, we want more. Sweetness is an acquired taste. Ever met a one year old who’s never had candy or cookies? I have and they could care less about it. I met a holistic nutrition doctor once that has two children between the ages of five and ten who have never had sugar of any kind before….and they didn’t want it. In contrast, I’ve met a two year old who’s tasted candy and they will go through great lengths to get it (like pulling up chairs, climbing furniture, hiding behind furniture with said candy, screaming, crying…not that this was my kid or anything.)

In a more recent study in 2013, they concluded similar results (along with increased risk of fatty liver disease) with more astounding statistics – between 1950 and 2000 the soda consumption increased from 10 gallons per year to over 50 gallons per year and from 120 pounds of sugar in 1994 to over 160 pounds of sugar in the 21 st century.

Additionally, fructose can be a nightmare if you suffer from irritable bowel syndrome. For about one third of sufferers, fructose malabsorption or intolerance may exacerbate symptoms of bloating, gas, diarrhea, and abdominal pain. Fructose is naturally found in honey and fruits. But we eat it on the daily in sugary drinks and processed foods – trying to eliminate it can be a challenge. Same goes for those with a corn allergy. It’s becomes a second job to avoid HFCS since it’s now in not only sodas but crackers, cookies, frozen dinners, granola bars, and yogurt.

Lastly, I’ve talked about the hunger regulating hormones, ghrelin and leptin before. There is evidence to suggest that HFCS inhibits insulin secretion thus, the leptin isn’t produced to promote satiety after a meal or a snack full of HFCS. As far as I have found, ghrelin (the hunger producing hormo

ne) isn’t increased, but who cares when you get no full signal while you’re chowing down on a box of doughnuts?

Bottom line: eat it, as with table sugar and all added sugars, in moderation. It is unclear if HFCS is the cause of the rising obesity epidemic and all of the related health issues we are experienc

ing in ourselves and our families, but it is crystal clear that there is a correlation.

What is moderation though? Well, I didn’t find much out there. I know less than 160 pounds per year, but that doesn’t tell me a whole lot. To give you an idea, one 12 ounce can of soda has 40 grams. So consider a plant-based diet with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and eliminate sweetened beverages. Start there and limit the sweets to special occasions and holidays.

 

P.S. If you’re looking for online support with like minded moms striving to live a healthier lifestyle, you may be interested in joining my free support group here.

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Jillian McMullen, RDN, CSOWM, LDN